California Senate approves bill to raise smoking age to 21
MODESTO-- Four days into summer vacation, several boys are giving the monkey bars at a Modesto playground a work-out, focused on the simple joys of childhood.
California senators are trying to preserve that joy by voting 26 to 8 to prevent some of it from literally going up in smoke.
They've endorsed a plan to raise the state's smoking age from 18 to 21, further restricting tobacco access for kids.
The youngsters at the playground say they've already been confronted with the ugly side of tobacco.
"One guy offered my brother cigarettes ... smokes," said 7-year-old Octavio Duate.
"My mom smokes, and she told me one time to stay away from her whenever she does it, 'cause it could get my lungs and it makes them bad," said Gilbert Navarro.
Senator Ed Hernandez sponsored the bill to up the age for lighting up because 90 percent of adult smokers started in their teens.
According to the American Lung Association, 21,300 of the Golden State's kids pick up the habit every year.
"If you become addicted to nicotine, it ultimately leads to death,and there's no ifs ands or buts," said Hernandez, a Democrat from West Covina.
The Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids says California's direct health-related costs because of tobacco amount to $13.3 billion annually.
"If you look at an individual who is 18-years-old, they're more likely to have friends 16 and 17 and buy cigs for them so that, they can use," Hernandez said.
He points out that social networks are different for 21-year-olds and their toxic habits are less likely to rope in younger generations.
But those against the bill maintain a change in the smoking age will only create bigger problems.
"If you drop the age range in California, you're going to increase the black market.
And the black market doesn't discriminate about selling to minors," said Bill Dombrowksi, president and CEO of the California Retailer's Association.
Modesto Dad Ramiro Velasco's has stressed the anti-smoking message to his five-year-old daughter Lailah.
She seems to be getting some of it.
"It smells bad," she says wrinkling up her nose.
Velasco agrees with the retailers association and doesn't believe SB151 will do much to snuff out California's tobacco troubles.
"It's not gonna stop nothing. I mean ... the kids that smoke are gonna smoke regardless of the laws, you know,"he said.
Senator Hernandez does concede a point to his critics — that the sales tax revenue the state depends on could drop with fewer smokes crossing counters.
But, he also says that's a trade he's willing to make for a healthier California.
The next stop for this bill?
A policy committee in the House.